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Advice for Seminoids

By timgombis
We had an interesting discussion in class yesterday about the challenges of enduring church
life while in seminary. My students are a joyful bunch who love Jesus and his people, but
they refected honestly on the difculty of dealing with the disconnects between what they
study in class and what they observe in church. It is soul-upsetting to critically refect on
Christian realities in classes and then to participate in less-than-ideal Christian practices on
Sundays.
This led me to refect a bit on my own struggles to maintain a proper posture toward the
church while inhabiting an environment of critical biblical and theological refection.
Unfortunately, a seminary education can sometimes (though not always) produce a
phenomenon we might call the seminoid.
I should know. I was one.
(NOTE: Friends and family are NOT welcome to share stories in the comments below!)
The seminoid has a superior attitude toward the laity, an arrogance toward average
Christians, a condescending posture toward the church. S/he is a know-it-all who trots out
impressive sounding words in small-group settings, critiques church practice, and spends
Sunday afternoons revisiting errors in the sermon and shortcomings in the service.
In the seminoid, the process of critical thought has created a critical spirit.
So, some advice to seminoidsor, to anyone pursuing theological educationon how to be a
blessing to the church rather than a bane:
(1) Receive the church. Seminoids want to comment on the churchs failures, rebuke it, set it
right, fx it. Dont do that. Dont see yourself in all your theological wisdom as a gift to the
church. Learn what it means that the church is a gift to you. Receive it as such and give
thanks to God for it. You are the one who needs to grow in Christ, not them. Of course,
objectively,everyone needs to grow in Christ. But focus your critical scrutiny on your own need
to cultivate the character of Christ, and let the church help you in that pursuit.
(2) Minister from your weakness. Seminoids, like others of us, assume that they minister
most efectively from their strengths. Thats a wrong assumption and a perverted vision of
October 11, 2012
spiritual gifts. Its counter-intuitive, but we minister most efectively from our weakness.
Jesus told Paul that power is perfected in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9), which led him to discover
that when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Cor. 12:10). Now, you are indeed a gift to the
church, but dont assume that you know how you are a gift to the church. That needs to be a
long process of discovery, and others will probably see it before you. If you think you know,
youre probably wrong. I say this to seminoids because your initial assumption may be that
you bless the church by being its instructor, its doctor, diagnosing its wrong theology and its
malpractice, and prescribing right theology and proper practice. If you do this, you will not
bless the church. You will burden it.
(3) Mentor a jr. high kid. Find a kid in your church (or in your neighborhood) in a single-
parent home and become his or her mentor. They wont want to hear you discourse on
prioritizing biblical atonement metaphors, rhetorical strategies in Luke-Acts, the presence or
absence of imputation language in Paul, or historical causes of the demise of mainline
denominations. Theyll probably want to see if fart noises make you laugh, if you can hit a
free throw with your eyes closed, and if you care that theyve been hurt by the class bully.
This is good for you. Itll help you avoid taking yourself too seriously. Itll remind you that
the aim of your theological education is to make you better at spending time with such
people for whom Jesus gave his life.
Never forget that Jesus highly commends spending time with jr. high kids (Matt. 19:13-15)
and strongly condemns public displays of spirituality (Matt. 6:5-6).
(4) Think eschatologically. Imagine yourself in the future as a much wiser 60 year-old. As
your future self, refect a bit on how you treated others, how you related to the church. You
do not want to be an old person with regrets that you hurt people, turned some of to the faith
because of arrogance, or discouraged them with ill-considered criticisms.
(5) Consider silence. Memorize proverbs on remaining silent rather than talking (Prov. 10:19;
13:3; 17:27-28; James 1:19). I have a handful of regrets for saying something hurtful or stupid
in ministry contexts. I dont have any regrets about biting my tongue.
(6) Meditate on Scripture. Memorize passages about humility and servant-hood (e.g., Mark
10:45; Phil. 2:1-11; 2 Cor. 4), along with Proverbs about the speech patterns of the wise (e.g.,
Prov. 12:18, 23). Draw on Scriptures that the Spirit may use to orient your character according
to Jesus. Do not memorize texts that you can use in theological debates to buttress your
pontifcations.
(7) Love the church like God loves the church. Remember that God gave his life for the
church (Acts 20:28), that he loves his people. If Jesus showed up at your church, he would
likely look past your churchs faults and express his outrageous love for its messed-up
members. Youd rather have Jesus say amen to your expressions of delight in his people
rather than whats your problem? when you note their many shortcomings.